Gavin Duffy is looking forward to leading Connacht onto the Sportsground pitch on Saturday knowing it will be chock-a-block with 9,000 green supporters.
“We got a taste of it against Toulon and now this is a whole new level. There will be an extra 2,000 people at this game, so it really is a sense of occasion - the first fixture at the Sportsground in the Heineken Cup and it being Toulouse - the best team in Europe.”
The 30-years-old captain, with experience of playing for Harlequins in the Heineken Cup, is relieved last weekend’s opening night fixture is behind him. Duffy scored one of two Connacht tries, but it was not enough in the end to cause a major upset. The emotion of last weekend’s defeat hit him hard, and he reluctantly confesses to shedding a few tears after seeing Connacht fall against his old club.
“It was the occasion - our first in the Heineken, and obviously I have a special affinity with Harlequins, but afterwards, when we were given such a great ovation from the Connacht fans who had travelled there, and realising that it was a massive opportunity and we didn’t get the win we could have, well, yes, there were a few tears,” he says.
Now, however, Duffy is excited to finally see Toulouse arrive in town.
“There has been a lot of build up since the draw was made back in May, a lot of talk, and a lot of developments as well off the pitch - the build up has been so long it’s a bit surreal, so it couldn’t come soon enough.”
Duffy says the fixture is an occasion for both players and supporters, who play a vital part in Connacht’s game.
“Against Toulon the crowd was fantastic, even during the warm up. They got behind us all the way and we responded. It ensured it was an occasion which everyone enjoyed, and I am sure there will be people who have never been to the Sportsground before, so we hope we can recreate that again.
“On that day we pushed and pushed Toulon and the crowd enjoyed it - I would expect more of the same again on Saturday.”
The Ballina native says occasions such as Saturday are important for the future of rugby in the province.
“We talk about leaving legacies. We mightn’t win anything in the next couple of years, but we can leave it in a better place than when we joined. There have been games throughout the years that young kids might have come to, Toulon is one and hopefully Toulouse is another, when a handful of kids come to their first Connacht match and go away loving rugby. Hopefully Connacht can reap that reward so it’s not just about this season, or Toulouse, but to have something to show for it down the line.”